In Gaza and Sderot, children want to live
The 17th day - Friday, July 25, 2104, 3:30 pm
Two and a half weeks into the horror in Gaza. Netanyahu convenes at noon the Inner Cabinet. According to the radio news, the agenda will include both a possible cease-fire and "expanding the operation". Reportedly, some IDF generals have become tired of “pussyfutting at the margins of Gaza” and prepared plans for penetrating deeper. The number of fatalities in the Gaza Strip passed the eight hundred mark. As long as the State of Israel employed in Gaza only its Air Force, the number of dead was making double-digit increments. Since the artillery came on the scene, the jumps are in three digits. Also today the newsreader mentioned in passing "continuing heavy artillery shelling in northern Gaza". Artillery had been sowing death in civilian populations centuries before the airplane was invented.
After the air raid alarm yesterday morning, the radio reported that heavy shrapnel fell on the main streets of Tel Aviv. Sharp steel fragments are the bigger danger. Most of the rockets fired from Gaza are intercepted in the air by the Iron Dome system, and only few of them land. But the sharp debris is falling down after each interception, and a sliver of the Iron Dome counter-missile can kill you just as dead if it falls down on your head. So, it is advised to stay under cover for ten minutes after hearing the alarm and the blast of interception.
Yesterday afternoon came the news of the killing at the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun. Fifteen killed, and horrible footage was broadcast on TV around the world (except, of course, in Israel.) The IDF announced that it was investigating the unfortunate incident. Government and military speakers repeatedly reiterated that it is in no way the policy of the State of Israel and its armed forces to kill unarmed civilians, that there is no intention to perpetrate any such act, and that we are deeply sorry when it does happen. And in reality it does happen again and again – always accidentally, always without intention and indeed despite all the army’s good intentions to the contrary, and the army is always very sorry when it happens. In the UNRWA school at Beit Hanoun were not only students of the school itself but also refugees who fled their homes elsewhere in Gaza, responding to the warning issued by the IDF telling them that their homes were under threat. But for the Palestinians in Gaza there is no safe place to escape to, death can come at them at any place and any time and from any direction.
“The Siege Goes On" stated a big headline in yesterday's paper. The reference was to the decision of international airlines to stop landing at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport because one of the rockets fired from Gaza fell quite close to the airport. Many Israelis were left stranded at various locations all over the world. Israel’s national airline, El Al, continued flying but raised prices. However, after the paper was already printed and on the stalls, AIPAC exerted its influence and American companies resumed flights after a break of two days, and enabling the launch of an airlift to return the stranded Israelis before the weekend.
Elsewhere in the same paper, the political correspondent noted that the government does not intend to accede to Hamas' demand to lift the siege on Gaza in the framework of the ceasefire. First they should stop shooting and then we'll see. The International Airport in southern Gaza which the Palestinians built during the Oslo years was closed down by the State of Israel after two years of operations. In 2001 Israeli tanks and bulldozers arrived and plowed down the runways. Will aircraft ever take off from there again? Certainly not any time soon.
Earlier this week, after the bombardment which left dozens of killed civilians lying in the streets of Shujaiyeh, Gush Shalom published an emergency ad in several papers: “Enough! The bodies of civilians are piling up in the streets of Gaza. Dozens of children were killed. Israel is sinking into a new swamp in Gaza. Enough! We must end the bloodshed and lift the siege of Gaza.
There are no military solutions. Only negotiations can achieve a quiet border.”
On the following day we got an angry phone call: "How dare you write such things? Don’t you see how they are slaughtering us?" "Are they slaughtering us? Are you sure you are not a bit confused? Are you sure you do not have confusion?" "Certainly they are slaughtering us. Every day they shoot hundreds of missiles at us." "In case you have not noticed, Iron Dome is intercepting these missiles." "So, we have to apologize for knowing how to protect ourselves?" yelled the caller and hung up.
The majority of Israeli citizens are indeed effectively protected by their government. Under the Iron Dome protection, we in Tel Aviv we can lead an almost normal life. War enters our daily lives only with one or two alarms per day and a bit of nervousness for the rest of the time. It is only the “unrecognized villages" in the Negev, home to some eighty thousand Bedouin citizens of Israel, which are not covered. The Iron Dome computer system defines the Unrecognized Bedouin villages as open empty spaces. In normal times they do not get water and electricity, and in times of war they do not get protection from missiles.
One of the rockets which was not worth the Iron Dome’s effort to intercept fell and exploded last week near Dimona, precisely on the spot where some 200 members of the Jenayeb Tribe, citizens of Israel, live in tin huts (more solid houses they are not allowed to build, and if they try to build them anyway the State of Israel takes care to demolish what they built) . Shrapnel thoroughly pierced the tin hut next to which the rocket exploded and killed the 32-year old Ouda Lafi al-Waj, seriously injuring in the head his three months old daughter, Aya - now anesthetized at the pediatric intensive care unit at Soroka. The rocket was fired from Gaza in this general direction because the Jenayeb Tribe happens to live near the city of Dimona which gave its name to the Dimona Nuclear Reactor which is well-known worldwide, also in Gaza. But Hamas's rockets are inaccurate weapons. As is the Israeli artillery this morning heavily and inaccurately shelling northern Gaza.
Dov Koller, peace activist from Karmiel in the north and an old friend, sent me this morning a communiqué: “Out of our duty to speak out in shared citizenship, we hold a protest vigil at Noon today in the Karmiel West Junction. We, Jews and Arabs in the Galilee, will stand there to jointly call for an end to the bloodshed, for stopping the war. Jews and Arabs do not want to be enemies!".
At this time that I am writing, the "Peace Bus" is making its way Jerusalem to the Gaza border, for the second time since the war began. "We set out from Jerusalem towards Gaza in a bus full of flowers and adorned with slogans of peace. Because - it will not end until we talk" wrote the initiators. "We are going to convey a message of dialogue and solidarity. Put an end to the war. Start talking about peace. Out of the bus we will be making a live broadcast. Love of humanity. Speaking to the people of Gaza. Protest. Singing. Hope. Craftsmanship."
Tomorrow night we will all gather for a demonstration against the war at the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, which hopefully will be bigger than pervious demonstrations. And yet, there can be no illusion - we, opponents of the war, are isolated in the Israeli society (at least, in the Jewish Israeli society). Opposition to this Gaza war is the business of a radical, determined minority. It is unlikely that a mass protest movement could be precipitated in the Israeli society, such as flourished during the First Lebanon War.
In the first week of that war in June 1982, the missiles fell on Kiryat Shmona and the communities of Northern Israel, and peace demonstrations were very small and isolated. But after that first week, the IDF crossed the Forty Kilometer Line - at the time marking the maximum range of Palestinian missiles. The shooting of missiles stopped, but the army continued racing northward to Beirut, promoting the schemes of Defense Minister Sharon to create “A New Order in the Middle East”. That was the point when the crowds began to take to the streets and protest, and the soldiers who were killed in increasing numbers on Lebanese soil seen as having fallen in vain at a foreign country where Israel was sinking in a swamp. Eventually mothers organized and demanded to bring the boys home, and ultimately they succeeded.
Nowadays, the firing of missiles continues over large parts of Israel, and the country’s leaders have warned the public that the shooting will continue until the last moment of the war, and that this is not the measure by which victory will be defined. Precisely when I wrote these words, the daily alarm sounded and we ran to the staircase to sit in the building’s most stable part, and strengthen our ties with our neighbors in this four floor building. And then I returned to the computer, to continue writing and note that Hamas was able apart from shooting missiles to organize effective guerilla warfare and that the IDF forces entering the Strip suffered far more losses than the High Command expected. An infantry soldier who was there told Yedioth Ahronoth: "There were no face to face battles. We entered Beit Hanoun on foot, they shot at us with anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles and small arms. We were searching for them. Sergeant Major Ben Sira was killed right next to me."
In 2014 Israel these soldiers are seen as fighting and falling "to defend out homes", their deaths in a worthy cause and not in vain. Tens of thousands came last week to attend the funerals of “lone soldiers” whose families do not live in Israel. The initiative for this did not come from the government or the army, but from an organization of soccer fans who had sent out via Facebook the call to attend the funerals.
At my neighborhood supermarket today, I found a large carton box at the cash register where customers were asked to put in gift packages for soldiers. The supermarket management took care to save the customers’ time and provide them with a ready-made dedication letter: "To the Soldiers With Love! Dear Soldier! We are proud of you! We salute you and think about you a lot. To make things easier for you, if only slightly, we have prepared for you a package full of personal warmth and love. Take care of yourself and of us, and most importantly, return home safely. "
Amnon Abramovich, a well known Israeli media, embarked on his career as a very staunch and outspoken opponent of the First Lebanon War. Yesterday he expressed his support for the current war in Gaza: "The cross-border tunnel system established by Hamas is truly horrifying. They could have come at night and taken over Kibbutz Nir Am, of which my parents were among the founders. I find it hard to stop imagining the nightmare scenes of what horrors they might have perpetrated. The French philosopher and writer Albert Camus, a Frenchman born in Algeria, objected to the way France maintained control of Algeria. But he said that ‘those who oppose French rule are placing bombs on buses. These are the buses on which my mother is travelling. If that is Justice, then I choose for my mother." And so, it seems, does Abramovich. In fact, in all cases where Hamas made use of these tunnels, its members who crossed the border clashed with soldiers rather than attack civilians - but somehow this is not registered.
Near to us at the suburb of Holon lives a man named Perez, whom from time to time we run across in the street and talk about politics. He had been originally a supporter of the extreme right, but over the years he mellowed and moved to the political center. In the last election he voted for Tzipi Livni. Monday night, a little after the alarm, we met again and talked about the current situation. He surprised us a bit in understanding the situation of the Palestinians under siege in Gaza: "If someone had locked me up in the bathroom and prevented me from reaching other parts of the apartment, it could well be that I would start rampaging and running wild. But make no mistake, I'm with my people. I'm not the man in the bathroom. I am the man in the living room who is a bit afraid of that man in the bathroom and of what he might do if he broke out."
When yesterday I cleared up old files clogging up my computer I came across an article written a bit less than four months ago in Le Monde under the title "If Kerry fails, what then?." The Jewish-Palestinian co-writers - Tony Klug and Sam Bahour - started with the words: “Suppose Kerry fails to cajole the Israeli and Palestinian leaders into finally ending their conflict. What would happen next? A tsunami of pent-up animosities is likely to be unleashed, with each side holding the other responsible for the failure and calling for retribution. Attempts to indict and isolate each other would gather pace and violence might return with a vengeance. The toxins let loose will inevitably have global spillover.” Few prophecies were fulfilled in such a swift and chilling manner.
And here John Kerry is back - this time with a more modest goal. Not an end to the conflict but just putting off the immediate combustion in the Gaza Strip. "The tireless Kerry has drafted a ceasefire proposal somewhere in between the Egyptian proposal, which was designed to grind Hamas to the ground, and the Qatari proposal aimed at giving Hamas a grand triumph" writes Nahum Barnea today. "It would offer a temporary respite, during which all the demands of Hamas will be taken up. Israel will have to negotiate about all these issues under the eyes of Kerry and the Europeans - a bitter pill for Israel to follow." At least hawks in Netanyahu's cabinet consider it far too bitter, and they are yelling and screaming and demanding a continuation of the operation and a deeper and deeper penetration into Gaza. Which suggests that there just might be a reason to take it seriously. And so we come to the meeting of the Israeli Inner Cabinet which is still going on as I write, and has already gone on for a long time. And presumably, an equivalent meeting of the Hamas leadership somewhere to deal with the same issue.
If we do have a ceasefire, it will be too late for Sergeant First Class Yair Ashkenazi, 36-year-old reservist from Rehovot. Like all the soldiers killed, the media is filled with his photos and the story of his life and the reactions of his grieving family members and friends. And the cease-fire would also come too late for the fifteen killed at the UNRWA school yesterday, and for more than eight hundred Palestinians whose names will never be heard and their faces never seen in the Israeli media.
The Human Rights group B'Tselem tried in vain to place a radio spot giving the names and ages of more than a hundred children, ages fifteen or less, who were killed in Gaza in the past seventeen days. In response, B'Tselem posted the censored spot on Facebook, where it got quite a wide attention.
So, what can be hoped for, may this list be definitely closed and no further names added to it. And that the siege of Gaza be truly opened, not just in empty promises, and the people of Gaza get some fresh air. And then perhaps there would be no countdown to the next round of fighting.
Meanwhile, we continue preparations for the rally of tomorrow night.